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Seasonal jobs scarce
With some exceptions, stores look long term
Neal Hall takes inventory of items Wednesday at Parsons Gifts and Collectibles. A seasonal employee, Hall works during his break as a student at North Georgia College & State University. - photo by Jennifer Sami
For six years, Judy James has gone from her regular job to a seasonal gig with Parsons Gifts and Collectibles.

A sailing instructor, James said she spends the offseason with her second family.

“I wanted to be out more during the holiday season and be around more people, and I enjoyed Parsons specifically,” she said. “Many of the employees have been here a long time, so it kind of feels like my extended family here.”

But as the economy has brought about more conservative spending, James’ seasonal employment is more of an exception.

“Everyone has tried to make it through with as few hires as possible,” said John Heavener, president of the Georgia Retail Association.

“There were some hired, as there are every year ... But again, we didn’t see a big uptick in holiday jobs.”

A check of Cumming retailers supports that trend.

While he does hire around the holidays, Wal-Mart manager Russ Hilsher said it’s typically for the long term, not just the season.

Linda Israel, general manager at Stein Mart, said the store “had to make do with what we had” this year.

“Everybody has cut back,” she said. “We ran with what we had and gave our part-time people more hours.”

Parsons co-owner Cris Willis said employment is a balancing act for the family business.

Beginning in September, one or two seasonal employees will come back, followed by a couple more in October.

Her college-age employees as well as teachers looking for extra spending money start around Thanksgiving. Willis said she’s at full staff by December.

“After the season, as we finish inventory, we don’t need seasonal help anymore,” she said. “And then we have to cut back even on our regular help.

“We do have a lot of part-time people who just work when we need them.”

Katie Hall is among them.

Hall, a junior at North Georgia College & State University, has been working at Parsons since she was 16. Some five years later, she’s recruited her brother Neal, a freshman at the Dahlonega school.

“We get about a month off so we have four full weeks where we can just work every day,” she said. “When I work all through the Christmas season, all of my books are paid for and I’ve paid for half of my tuition, so that really helps a lot.

“And of course buying Christmas presents for everyone, we can get everybody nicer gifts.”

Neal Hall said he’s worked several part-time jobs, from apparel to window cleaning, but Parsons is his best opportunity.

“It’s entertaining,” he said. “I enjoy working at the register because all the customers are nice and the management is awesome. They’re flexible with my schedule.”

Hiring college-age employees like the Hall siblings is typical, Heavener said. It also doesn’t add to the typical January employment drop-off.

“When seasonal employment ends after the holidays, there’s always a decrease in jobs,” he said. “But I think there will be less job losses this year because there were fewer to start out with.

“The good news is we’ve had a fairly good holiday season so I think it will be a good omen for 2010.”